Self Care for Writers

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In this #NaNoWriMo article we talk about 5 self-care ideas to keep you motivated the whole month during NaNoWriMo. 

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo this year? If you don’t know, November is the National Novel Writing Month, and the challenge is to write 50,000 words during the month of November. If you start on November 1st, it means you’ll have to average 1667 words per day in order to make that goal a reality. 

For a lot of people trying to become full time writers, 1667 words per day is a significant increase in the amount of productivity that they have during the month. Sustaining that becomes draining over a long period of time, especially once the excitement of the project and the stress of life gets in the way. 

I’ve done NaNoWriMo many times. I’ve won some years and lost some years, and I knew going into this year that I probably was going to participate knowing full well that I wasn’t going to win. The challenge is still fun, and the spirit of NaNoWriMo is still very exciting for me, so I decided my participation was going to be worth doing on it’s own. This week I am trying to keep up with my own self care so that I am able to sustain my creativity throughout the length of my latest project. 

So let’s dive in and I’ll tell you what kinds of ideas I’ve had about refilling my own creative well. Your results may vary, but I hope this list may get you thinking about some things that might work for you.

  1. Journal, color in a coloring book, or brain dump a to-do list, and worry about it tomorrow.

Overwhelmed? Me too. Sometimes the mental load is too much to carry. Between managing my home, work, and my characters, it’s a lot to keep in my brain all at once. I’m a writer by trade, so it makes sense that when I’m feeling stressed out, I work my feelings out by writing them down in a journal. It may be months between entries. Some entries may only be a few ideas jotted hastily on a page, while others wax on for many pages. I started journaling when I was in the seventh grade, and have never really given it up since.

I’ll tell you a secret. I’m not one for meditation. I used to teach a yoga class, and we used to meditate at the beginning of every class. I know all the theory and breathing techniques, but still, I can’t get my racing thoughts to calm down. But you know what I can do? I can color in a coloring book, and that somehow brings my mind the slowness it needs to figure out whatever it is that I’m having problems with. I can put my mind toward mindful focus and actually brainstorm plot holes and work through problem scenes better when I’m coloring (albeit badly) than by doing any sort of guided meditation. Don’t ask me why it works. It just does.

One more way to clear out the mental clutter is to jot down a brain dump list. List out every task that is on your mind. If there are groceries you need to buy, appointments to schedule, things to remember, quotes floating around, emails you have to send, simply jot them all down in a giant task list. There’s no need to assign any kind of value to any of the tasks or organize them in any way until tomorrow. For now, just make the list and move on. Bonus points if you do one task you know won’t take that long but you’ve been putting off for a while, like making a chiropractic appointment.

  1. How sore are your shoulders and back right now? You should probably get up and stretch.

So your cat’s been lying on your lap and your legs have all but gone numb? So not an excuse.

As writers, we spend an incredible amount of time in awkward seated positions. I am guilty of this right now as I lean over my laptop while sitting up in bed. Depending on the level you keep your screen at, the height of your desk, the height of your chair, you can have pain throughout your entire body just by sitting there moving only your fingers. 

Get away from your desk and stretch your tired shoulders once and a while. In fact, do it right now. Take 10 minutes and give your shoulders and lower back the deep breathing stretches they desperately need. Bonus points if you actually schedule yourself a massage or ask for one from your spouse.

  1. How long has it been since you’ve talked about your book with another human?

My husband doesn’t necessarily know anything about story or writing craft, but when I talk my plot holes and book ideas out with him I always feel better. Why? Because I don’t always realize how lonely and isolating writing a book can feel. I am a generally introverted human, and usually dislike socializing with anyone, so it’s easy for me to get caught up in my own thoughts and worlds. I have spent weeks feeling disassociated from reality because I have spent them only talking to my own characters. It’s mental.

Even better is when I can talk about writing with other humans who also read or write, like my bestie or my local writing group. Sometimes being in the same room with people who are also writing can be incredibly inspiring for me. Bonus points if part of your hang out is in a library or favorite bookstore, because there is simply nothing more inspiring than standing next to books on shelves. You can almost feel the inspiration by assimilation happening. 

  1. Go to bed early, take a nap, or even take a walk.

How exhausted are you? NaNo is hard, and holidays can be emotional in both good and bad ways. Consider that you might be mentally, emotionally, or physically exhausted. It’s okay to go to bed early if you’re starting to feel too tired to do anything productive. No, you’re not in kindergarten any more, but even a short nap in the middle of the day can greatly boost your mood and energy levels for the rest of the day, and get you back on track, ready to face those writing goals.

And maybe you’re not completely exhausted, maybe the break you need is a mental break. If that’s the case, step away from your computer for a while and go for a walk around your neighborhood. Half the work of writing is done in just brainstorming alone, which you don’t need to be at your computer to do. If you get out into the sunlight, you will not only absorb the good vitamins, but you will also have the space and the calm for your mind to be able to wander. This will introduce you to new ideas and breakthroughs that staring at your screen may not have produced.

  1. What does your writing space look like?

Is it time to reevaluate your space? If you look at your desk right now, can you honestly say that it’s a place that is totally inspiring to you? If it isn’t, and it’s filled with clutter like mine, it may be time to reevaluate your writing space. Taking a day to sort through paperwork and remove junk piled up on my desk and in drawers kind of sucks sometimes. That’s why I don’t do it very often. Listening to inspiring podcasts, playlists for my book, and other writer’s audiobooks as I organize and get back on top of my writing space can help me to get through it all. 

You want it to be a place to inspire, not a place that’s full of mess and stress. Working on decluttering your space while listening to things that are informative or that inspire you can help you to want to get back into your own writing with excitement.

So those are the kinds of ideas I’ve had about refilling my own creative well. Your results may vary, but I hope this list may get you thinking about some things that might work for you. 

Discussion Questions

  1. What does self care look like for you?
  2. What are your mental, emotional, and physical burnout signs?
  3. Do you ever put NaNoWriMo on hold for a while to make sure you’re taking care of yourself?
  4. What are your best tips and tricks for making 50,000 words in November?
  5. What questions would you like to see me answer in a blog post or podcast episode?

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